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Here is the situation:

You are working on your complex, hi-tech code, and your boss keeps on asking if it's finished.

But the project started just yesterday and you have two weeks to go.

What can I do? Shall I keep on answering "I'm on it!"? :)

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closed as primarily opinion-based by gnat, GlenH7, MichaelT, Kilian Foth, jwenting Aug 26 '14 at 10:45

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Saying "I'm on it" doesn't give any indication of progress. –  JBRWilkinson Oct 23 '10 at 21:57
Please follow this proposal for that kind of question: Organization aspects –  bigown Dec 10 '10 at 20:18
"You are working on your complex, hi-tech code" and then "But the project started just yesterday and you have two weeks to go." You must be a super-coder to complete a complex project in two weeks... –  Ed S. Jun 11 '11 at 22:18
Definitely spend some of that hour posting a question on here ;) –  Town Jun 17 '11 at 15:31

10 Answers 10

up vote 75 down vote accepted

You plan to work on this for two weeks. So do you actually have a plan? For example "I am going to put together the ui, connect the event handlers using mocks/stubs for the data part, test all that, write the data part, ...". Or if you're TDD, which tests you're going to write and which pieces of the puzzle will stay mocked the longest. I think your boss will be happy to see a plan and see where you are in it. If there are 10 steps in your plan and after 1 day you have 1 done, it's a pretty good guess you need two weeks.

I think you and your boss have a communication issue. Either your boss doesn't think it needs two weeks, and is asking "Why isn't it done yet?", or your boss is really saying "show me a plan so I know it will be done on time", or some completely different thing. So it might also be a good idea to say "I am not sure why you are asking me if it is finished yet. Is there anything else you need to know besides yes/no is it finished?"

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An estimated delivery two weeks in the future without a breakdown of steps is just too big a chunk for managers to feel comfortable with. In my experience, the two week estimate (or 10 days or 80 hours) is the default answer given by any developer who has not actually planned out the steps that lead to successful completion. –  GBegen Nov 1 '10 at 20:02
@Gbegen For a sufficiently senior developer I might not ask to see the breakdown of steps, but that would be based on years of having seen them, and having gained confidence that they always exist, and that following them produces the desired result. So yes, show your plan is the right thing to do. –  Kate Gregory Nov 1 '10 at 21:02

Suggest that you have daily update meetings first thing in the morning. In these you will tell him what you did yesterday, what you hope to achieve and what (if anything) is causing a hold up.

He can tell you the latest sales/marketing news and if there are any changes to the plan.

This is basically an agile/scrum meeting.

If he knows this is happening he might leave you alone for the rest of the day.

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Yes, I suppose Scrum daily meeting would avoid disrupting me –  Junior M Oct 23 '10 at 19:08
@NiceTShirts: I don't know, daily seems like a lot to me. What exactly can you do in a day, not that much if you want my advice. I used to have basically weekly meetings with my boss before and it worked perfect. Last semester I just had the post-doc come asking questions when he felt like it and he would report to the boss. That was great. Depends on your autonomy I guess. –  n1ckp Oct 23 '10 at 20:11
@n1ck - if you're doing Scrum then they recommend a daily standup and for a short project where the boss is bothering you more than once a day it might work. For projects with slower progress a less frequent meeting might be OK. –  ChrisF Oct 23 '10 at 20:15
@n1ck if you aren't accomplishing enough in a day (8 hours of work) to have something to report, then I sure wouldn't want you to work for me. Weekly meetings means the management waits too long to find out problems and delays. Daily meetings also encourage people to accomplish more becasue they have to report progress. –  HLGEM Nov 1 '10 at 13:52
The purpose of a daily meeting is not a way to make sure people are working. If you program in isolation, it may not be a big deal, but sometimes the progress of other's work has an impact on what you're doing and finding out at the end of the week is too long. And no, you can't always anticipate what others need to know. –  JeffO Nov 5 '10 at 20:26

First understand that "I'm on it" is the worst thing you can say. It indicates that you don't want to tell him what you have done and to his mind that means you haven't done anything. Often managers have good reason to feel this way as that is exactly the phrase that bad employees use when they are trying to avoid telling the boss they are stuck or don't know what to do or are in over their head. "I'm on it" means to a manager that the project is trouble and you might be quitting the day before the deadline to avoid facing the music. The more you say, "I'm on it" the more he is going to pester you as that doesn't give him any information.

Your boss has every right to know what you are doing and what progress you have made. This is not an interruption of your work, it is part of your work. Now how to handle it so he isn't so annoying about it? I'd give him what he wants, information. Do it at the beginning of the day or the end of the day on a schedule. Discuss it with him if he would like a meeting, or just an email with a progress report. Give him an action plan and then tell him when you are deviating from the plan. Once he has built up a trust that you wil give him the information he needs and that you won't hide problems until it's too late to deal with them, he will probably back off. But until you take actions to build that trust, he won't.

It is likely that he too has bosses who are pestering him daily for progress reports. If he can give them and sound knowledgeable to his management, that's what he really wants most of the time.

However, there are some people who are just bullies and won't be satisfied no matter what you tell them, they indulge in magical thinking and think things can be done by when they want them just because that is when they want them. They think of how much better they will look to their managers if they bring things in early, not if it is even possible. If the boss won't accept a simple daily meeting or email of progress, then he may be one of these people. If he is, then this is the kind of person you want to avoid and finding a different position in the company or outside the company may be your best bet in the long run. Life is too short to waste with dealing with toxic people.

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Your boss is probably anxious about the progress. Ask him/her if it would be OK for you to send him/her a progress report at the end of each day explaining what you've done.

That's probably more effective, and less career-limiting than telling your boss that the constant interruptions are ruining your ability to work effectively, and he/she is really annoying you.

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nice tip Frank! –  Junior M Oct 23 '10 at 19:07
and the upside is, after a couple of weeks, the manager will lose interest in the meetings and will poilitely ask if they can become a once-a-week thing. nothing will cure a manager of too-much-process faster than actually following through with too-much-information –  brad clawsie Nov 1 '10 at 3:11

If he is so keen then he would probably like a 15 minute status report every morning. Do that every day for the coming two weeks, and he will be happy.

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Put a kanban chart outside your cube.

your manager can look at it, and you will update it after every step you have taken.


And you'll all live happily ever after.

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send a daily status update mail, even before he asks about it. indicate the small things you have done,blocking issues if any, the percentage completion, and the estimated time needed.

after it's become a habit, it gives the boss a feeling of 'things are going well and in control'. this works well, i have tried and succeeded doing the same.

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You need to persuade him to bother you rather less often.

I agree with all the suggestions above of a daily status report. I would also refer you and your boss to point 8 in Joel's article here: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000043.html

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If you are autonomous person, just tell him that you don't need so much supervision.

I have the luck to work for a university teacher and basically he's too busy doing other stuff to be always looking at what I'm doing (I don't need him to look after me to work, thank you, I love my work and that motivate me enough).

I would say tell him to find other stuff to do but bothering you but that's obviously a big NO. So, try to get him to trust you that you can do a good job even when he's not looking and he might get the hint.

Why does he not trust you anyway? Did you just get on the job? Proved him that you needed supervision? or is he just a poor manager?

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how did this person become a manager of programmers while demonstrating such a poor grasp of the fundamentals of project engineering? i don't see this ending well, i doubt anything you could recommend will make much of a difference. if your manager is responsive to suggestions, i would recommend an approach that conveys data in a minimally invasive way...for example, an email sent at the end of the day that provides a three-line summary of what you accomplished. i can't imagine any amount of work accomplished over an eight hour period that can't be summarized in thirty words or less

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You should see some of the people I've found managing programmers. –  David Thornley Nov 1 '10 at 20:03

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